Where’s the line between a “black” person who can pass for “white”, and a “white” person who can pass for “black”?
Before the One-Drop Rule
America used to classify its ethnic African minorities into two categories.
Those with no known non-African ancestry were known as “Black”, “Negro” (apparently for Spanish speakers) and “Colored” because everyone else, apparently, was clear.
Anyone with African and any other ancestry, especially west Asian (“European”), were known as Mulattoes.
West Asians (also known as “Europeans”) with no visible or known African ancestry, were called “White” even though white is a color, so technically they were “colored”, too. (If you are confused about the use of the terms ‘west Asia’ and ‘West Asian’, click here.)
At some point, the ‘Mulatto’ category was abolished, and all people with any African ancestry were lumped into the first category. Thus formed the “One-Drop Rule”: if you had any known or visible African ancestry, you were Black/Negro/Colored.
But what about people with so little African ancestry, or specifically so few African genes expressed in their phenotype, that they appeared West Asian or “white”?
They ‘passed’ for “white”. They hid their African heritage, abandoned the non-passable members of their family (often at their suggestion) and blended into the dominant west Asian society. They did this to qualify themselves for affirmative action, also known as “white” privilege: 100% quotas at colleges and universities, 100% quotas on in the workforce, 100% quotas in the military, access to credit and housing, and basic human rights.
You never know who could be passing for “white”. With as much as 25% African ancestry, a person can have blonde hair and blue eyes. Even without those, a person with African could have little enough of it showing to not be swarthier, as Benjamin Franklin, put it, than the swarthier races of west Asia. (Keep in mind, as the first and frequent settlers in West Asia, Africans have contributed considerably to their genes and phenotype.)
More importantly, a person could be passing and not know it. If your father passed with 25% African ancestry, then you are a full 1/8th (12.5%) African, but your father obviously wouldn’t have told you. Keep in mind that 12.5% is as much west Asian ancestry as the average African-American has, after centuries of pure Africans mixing with multi-ethnic and/or west Asians.
In fact, an estimated 28 million, representing ~10%, of west Asian Americans have African ancestry. Those “white” people are “black” (according to the One-Drop Rule) and don’t even know it! There are almost as many “whites” with “black” blood than there are “blacks”!
What About Rachel?
Is she in that 28 million?
She wouldn’t even know it if she was, like the white supremacist who found out he was 14% African (making him, therefore, “black”). So how do we know she’s not? How do we know that, according to the one-drop rule she shouldn’t be called “black” or African-American (Spanish was dropped as an official language at some point, so “Negro” is out of fashion)?
Only a genetic test could prove she has no African blood, and if she does, she’s “black”. This isn’t a stretch. We regularly celebrate and/or out supposedly “black” people who look completely white, because they have a mixed ancestor even generations ago.
Genes affect more than just phenotype. That’s why Don Cheadle, with dark brown skin, tightly-curled hair, and broad facial features, can still be 19% west Asian: his west Asian genes don’t express themselves in his phenotype.
There are genes for everything: immunity, hormones, metabolism and a lot of things we don’t think about. Genes also affect behavior and personality. Genes are even passed through breast milk- and how many west Asian Americans have been suckled by African women throughout history? What’s more, memory is passed through genes.
So it’s perfectly normal, or at least possible, for a person to have genes affecting those areas coming from an ancestor that they don’t physically resemble.
This explains “white” people who identify with a distant African ancestor, and why so many African-looking people have difficulty opposing “white” supremacy: it’s in their blood.
“Race is a social construct.”
That really is true.
Where I live in Arabia, “blackness” is defined by the opposite of the one-drop rule: if your skin is not very dark, or if you have loosely-curled hair, or a thin nose or lips- signs of possible non-African ancestry, you’re NOT “black.”
My dark-skinned African-American friend, who inherited wavy hair from his Hispanic mother, was told by his Afro-Arab wife that he’s “white”! “White” to them means one-drop of non-African blood!
Further, Arabs identify a person by his or her father. No matter who the mother is, the child is an Arab if the father is Arab. There are Indonesians who are 100% Indonesian in language and appearance, but are considered Arabs because there is an unbroken paternal line to Yemen.
By that logic, by having a “white” forefather, many African-Americans are actually “white”!
For Jews, it’s the complete opposite: the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish, no matter who the father is.
By that logic, my dark-skinned African-American friend is “white” because of his West Asian maternal grandmother. And the dark-skinned son of my friend, who has a west Asian mother and ethnic African father, is also “white”.
And I have one friend who is “white” to the Arabs because his skin is light brown, “black” to Americans because his father is ethnically African, and Jewish to the Jews because he has a Jewish mother. He should go on tour!
The American concept of race, and every concept of race, and the concept of race itself, are all stupid. Black? White? So what’s a “mixed” person, then- Grey? What should I call my friend’s wife who has a Chinese grandfather- Dark Yellow? We’re just making it up as we go along- and mostly getting it wrong…
Don’t Ask Rachel
I’m not defending or attacking Rachel Dolezal. Her family and identity issues are hers and her family’s: not ours.
I just want to know why African-Americans get so happy when they find out a “white” person is really black, but offended when a “white” person says they are “black”.
I wanna know how a west Asian woman pretending to be African can provide more leadership than ethnic Africans who claim to be African, and are supposedly proud of it.
That’s what matters- not what she did, but what you have.